Tuesday’s press conference to announce Ben Cherington as the Red Sox replacement for Theo Epstein is an announcement that surprises nobody. It hardly raises the shock meter — not that many internal promotions of non-playing personnel ever do — and appears to sit well around the organization as it has been reported. In fact, it doesn’t do much of anything to change the culture in the offices at Fenway Park.
That in itself might be the problem with hiring Cherington, a problem that he will have to address right from the outset when the managerial search begins. The culture in the offices may be the same, but he’ll have to make sure the culture on the field is 180-degrees different.
Epstein’s successor was sure to be met with plenty of tough decisions regarding personnel — not the least of which will be replacing Terry Francona at the helm. To erase the bad taste that the 2011 season left in the mouths of many at least a modicum of house cleaning has to be expected from Cherington. As someone who has been around the organization since 1997 it could prove tough for Cherington to let go of a lot of the things that he saw prove successful during the World Series runs of 2004 and 2007. Luckily for Cherington and the aura of the Epstein-era staff, it takes a lot longer to sour on a general manager than it does to turn on the players on the field.
While a stale clubhouse marshaled over by an allegedly pill-popping manager took nearly all of the heat for a September collapse, unsuccessful front office decisions were met with little criticism. Sure, Carl Crawford and John Lackey weren’t exactly crown princes of Boston after their less than stellar seasons but that blame failed to go much further than the players themselves. Some of Bob Hohler’s sources expressed some organizational trepidation on the Crawford decision but largely pinned things on Francona and the players for the Red Sox’ fall from grace.
For those not around the Red Sox day in a and day out during the past few years, knowing just how much Cherington contributed to the albatross of Lackey’s deal ($82.5 million over five years) and other questionable decisions might be impossible. Cherington certainly was a big part of Epstein’s staff in the past few years, even being named co-general manager with current Cubs GM Jed Hoyer when Epstein left the team after the 2005 season. Cherington needs to gut the core of those teams he helped to build. Starting with the coaching staff.
Bench coach DeMarlo Hale has gotten some early talk of taking over the head job for next season but Cherington needs to realize that it will be his first big decision — who will replace Francona — that will have more to say about his tenure than anything else. If he were to hire someone who has been a part of the organization he invites continued malaise when what is really needed is a fresh jolt. Cherington can’t do anything to change his own history in the organization other than to ignore it and turn a blind eye on Hale and the rest of the staff that manned the clubhouse in September. The man who himself was steeped in 14 years of Red Sox culture will be the one who has to usher in an era of change.
ESPN Boston put out a glowing review of Cherington’s career in baseball thus far and based on those personal reviews, he very well may be the next big thing to hit the front office world. Yet, the biggest issue for the current Red Sox isn’t his use of sabermetrics or traditional scouting philosophies. The immediate concern for Cherington in his new job has to be how can he change the deep-seeded issues that festered and grew before finally crippling the Red Sox late in the season.
Cherington may have been a choice to stay with a known commodity, one that the organization was comfortable with. The next decision that Cherington will orchestrate should be the opposite. While Francona was hands on and blasé toward the end, the next manager should be fiery and aggressive, holding the players accountable.
Even though Cherington was around to see what the “idiots” could do to make the Red Sox one of the top franchises in baseball he now has to turn his back on that warm and fuzzy feeling to bring them back to the top.